How to write an abstract for a conference?

Gepubliceerd op 13 oktober 2023 om 13:13

Presenting at conferences: some hate it, others love doing it. No matter how you feel about it, presenting your results is part of your work as a researcher. As a PhD candidate you will certainly encounter such situations at some point. But you do not get to present at an (inter)national conference just like that. First, you have to convince the conference committee that you have a good and interesting research study to present about. You do this by sending in an abstract. An abstract is a short summary of your research.


Abstract structure

When you submit a paper for publication, you always have to include an abstract. For a conference abstract, you generally use a similar structure as for an article abstract. You start with a bit of background information about your research. What is the problem and why is it important that this is researched? Then you write a bit about the method of your study: what did you do and how did you do it? Thirdly, your results are up. You give a short description about your main findings. Finally, you end your abstract with two or three sentences discussion or conclusion, where you indicate which conclusions you can draw or how your findings can be put to use.


Practical tips


Tip 1: Check the conference website for the abstract guidelines. For example, for which headings to use, and do they want introduction or do they prefer background? A discussion or a conclusion, or even both? Or should it be an unstructured abstract, which means that you do not use any headings at all? As a rule an abstract can be up to 250 words, but sometimes you only get to use 200 words or you are allowed extra room with for example 350 words. Some conferences like you to add one or more relevant references as well. In short, carefully check the abstract submission guidelines.


Tip 2: Every conference generally has its own goal and its own audience. On top of that there are often certain themes. By describing in your abstract how your research connects to (one of) the goals or themes of the conference, you increase the chance of being allowed to present your research there. You can often try to include this in the introduction or discussion/conclusion of your abstract. Sometimes you can also select for which theme you are submitting an abstract.

Tip 3: Make sure your main findings are clearly mentioned in your abstract. If you do not have any results yet, you could indicate that you ‘will present the first results at the conference’. However, your abstract generally has a greater chance of being accepted for an oral presentation when the results of your research are already known. When you indicate that your results will follow later, you are more likely to get a poster presentation or a rejection.


Tip 4: Once you have finished your abstract, always send it to the co-authors of this particular study. They can give you some feedback and you also make them aware of the conference you plan to attend.


Tip 5: Sometimes your abstract is part of a symposium for the conference. This means that three to six speakers will discuss one theme together and that you are part of this with your research. You will be invited to participate in a symposium by peer researchers from your field, or maybe you and your PhD supervisors come up with a symposium together. The deadline for submitting a symposium is often earlier than for submitting a single abstract. Sometimes even a full month earlier. So do not forget to remember the deadline for submitting your abstract! But of course we would not have to tell that to such a well-organized PhD candidate as yourself…


Anecdotal evidence

One PhD candidate had already submitted several abstracts to conferences, but she kept being rejected. What happened? Despite her research project being finished and her results being known, she had consistently not included her findings in her abstract. Everywhere she had stated that she would explain during her presentation what her results were. Her reasoning was that her abstract had to lure people to her presentation. If people could already read the outcomes of her study in her abstract, why would they still come to listen to her presentation? The next abstract she submitted with her results in it, was immediately accepted for an oral presentation!

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